Sedgley residents and visitors from across the UK can get ready for lift-off with the launch of the much-loved chairlift at Dudley Zoological Gardens this Friday, August 24.
The official ceremony, which will be carried out by BBC Radio WM presenter Jenny Wilkes, follows a three-month £117,000 Heritage Lottery-funded refurbishment of the country’s only vintage chairlift.
Work included a full refurbishment of the 41 chairs and roller system which carries the cable, plus an overhaul of the engine – a British-made DC which is electrically-driven with a reduction gearbox. The chairlift was last operated in 2002.
Dudley Zoo CEO, Peter Suddock, says: “We are so thrilled this is happening. One of the most common questions we are asked by national and overseas visitors is: ‘When’s the chairlift going to be running?’ so we are very well aware the refurbishment will create lots of interest.”
Finance for the project is via a £1.2million bid for Heritage Lottery Funding, which will also see the restoration of four of the site’s 12 listed Modernist structures which form part of the world’s largest single collection of Tecton buildings designed by renowned architect Berthold Lubetkin.
Mr Suddock adds: “It’s a fantastic year. Not only is it our 75th anniversary, we’ll also be finalising plans for the new entrance, retail complex and Tecton interpretation centre which will go on public display.There will also be additions to the animal collection and, of course, the chairlift will be restored, so there’s a lot to celebrate.”
Chairlift Was First Passenger-carrying Aerial Ropeway In England
The chairlift at Dudley Zoo was the first passenger-carrying aerial ropeway to be installed in England. It transports visitors from the zoo’s lower zone to the 11th century Dudley Castle on the upper level within a two-minute journey offering panoramic views across Sandwell to Birmingham, before travelling directly over flamingos and rare breeds of sheep grazing on the banks.
Mr Suddock says: “We have all the original drawings and, despite its age, the changes to the chairlift mainly centre on cosmetic refurbishment where it has suffered exposure to the elements and some slight modifications to the T-bars on the chairs. It’s a fantastic piece of machinery and a tribute to 1950’s engineering techniques.”
The chairlift opened to DZG’s visitors on May 11, 1958 and within six months had carried more than 154,000 passengers – approximately one third of persons visiting the zoo during that period.
Mr Suddock adds: “Early passengers paid sixpence for their journey, but 2012 travellers will be able to use the facility for free.”
Visit the Dudley Zoo website
for more information on the exciting refurbishment of this 1950s chairlift.